School census boycott over child deportation fear

CREDIT: This story was first seen on Sky News

Rights groups have called for a boycott of the government’s school census over concerns it is being used for immigration enforcement, Sky News reports.

The census, which collects information about all children in UK state schools, is being conducted on Thursday.

It became the subject of controversy when it emerged the information collected was being handed to the Home Office for the purposes of immigration enforcement.

The arrangement, detailed in a memorandum of understanding between the Department for Education and Home Office, was revealed under a freedom of information request last year.

The details of 1,500 children can be shared each month, and since January 2016 the Department for Education has released hundreds of records following more than 3,000 Home Office requests.

Nick Watts, from Migrant Family Action, told Sky News the policy meant children could be deported to countries where they would be unable to continue education, and said it was creating a “culture of fear” that was stopping some families from sending children to school.

Gracie Mae Bradley, advocacy and policy officer at Liberty and a coordinator at Against Borders for Children, said the policy had left children feeling fearful.

“It teaches children that people can be treated differently just because they have different documentation,” she said.

The data sharing aims to reduce the number of people living and working illegally in the UK and create a “hostile environment” for them, according to the agreement.

The Department for Education confirmed to Sky News that information about “illegal migrants” was obtained from the National Pupil Database and used to contact families to “regularise their stay or remove them”.

A spokesperson said information including a child’s address and school details would be requested when the Home Office had “clear evidence of illegal activity or fear of harm”.

“It is right that we share school or address data if it helps to keep a child safe from harm or to disrupt a crime.”

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They said information about nationality would not be shared with the Home Office. The category, included in an original information sharing agreement, was removed after pressure from more than 20 organisations last year.

Ms Bradley said parents had responded to the boycott and that some children had written “planet earth” in the place of birth section of their census.

“Schools are meant to be a protective institution,” she said. “The key issue here is that every child has got a right to an education, and that’s set down in law.”

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